Monday, March 24, 2008

Monday 26th September 1938

The day:

Sad September day of drizzling rain, mud, and sultry warmth. The bloody car would not start-up. Sweating, splashed with mud, I pushed it laboriously out of the field, up the lane to the top of a slight rise. She fired eventually. Afterwards I had to have a wash and clean my clothes before starting work.

Collected two cheques today. No orders. The shadow of war has darkened again.

“Czechs say “NO” “Britain and France will not press Czechs any further”

(Czechoslovakia was given six days in which to agree to Hitler’s increased demands.

This is the second day – or is it the first?)

A letter from father this morning:-

“…I have no time to write about the National Crisis which I consider is now definitely over – Chamberlain having called Hitler’s bluff – but should like you to come over next weekend, or earlier if necessary, to talk things over…”

Rather significant that letter, signed, quaintly, “Your affect. Father, NC Dawson.

Queues of men, women and children outside the various Southend Elementary Schools. Waiting to be fitted for their gas masks … “Is it the war again?” they ask themselves. War? War? War?

The evening:

Company Meeting at the Signals Drill Hall. This had actually been called so that we could be informed of the future of the Company and it had nothing to do with recent grim events. But – I arrived late. There was a certain excitement in the air as I entered the drill hall, where the men sat at tables. Several people, chiefly NCO’s had their hands raised. “What is it?” I asked Corporal Dennison as I passed, “What are the hands up for?” “I’ve been mobilised!” he said, in that eccentric way of his.
I sat beside Fayers and Woolmer. Fayers explained rapidly that the names of twenty two men had just been read out and they were “proving” The twenty two men, all, apparently, B3 Operators, were to proceed to Stratford tomorrow morning. Stan Woolmer, Sergeant Russell, and Sergeant Smith were amongst them. A 20% mobilisation!
Lucky blighters! They will stay in the Signals!

Captain Bately spoke: “The men who are going tomorrow, we may not see any more, so this shall be a sort of farewell supper party.” Blokes hopped onto the stage and recounted smutty yarns. (Some were quite good and I made a mental note for further reference!) We sang: “For he’s a jolly good fellow!”, “I double dare you”, “Pack up your troubles”. Then there was an interval. We had still heard nothing of our future so I slipped out to the B and AV and scribbled a note, giving the news to Lois. I knew she would come. Back inside, we all listened intently to the translation of a fiery speech by Herr Hitler, which had just concluded: -

“My patience is now ended… I demand complete surrender now, immediately… I have built up the greatest fighting force that the world has ever known… but I am an ex-serviceman, I know what war is; I desire peace… I give you until October the First…”

Afterwards, we sat down whilst the Company Commander spoke. He told us, with regret, that recent events had upset matters, so that he could not after all, tell us what would happen to the Company. “I do not know, myself” he ended. For the present we are to remain a unit, attend in the usual way, and go at once if we are sent for.
Yes, Lois was in the B and AV! I went home with her and had a coffee.

I’d decided to go to the Office tomorrow, to learn the position, just in case…
(There will certainly be little business about whilst this suspense continues)
So I telephoned home, from Lois’. Mother said she was glad to hear the sound of my voice; said she was “in a bit of a panic”. They’d been to have gas masks fitted… ”What are you doing?” I told her nothing definite was known but we might be handed over to the searchlights. “Thank God for that!” she said. Eventually arranged to call at Hawthorn Court tomorrow, with Lois.

I left Oakdene punctually ay 11 o’clock, but Lois came out with me, and we sat, very close together, in the B and AV, whilst rain drummed on the roof.

They all sat talking in the sitting room at Roedean, when I entered. More news: There were mines laid in the Firth of Forth. Plans had been prepared for the evacuation of Paris. 193 Battery had already been mobilised, “as a precautionary measure”.

There may or may not be war. This, however, is certainly the nearest we have been to it, since 1918.

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